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Environmental Board urges caution on project over aquifer

Thursday, March 20, 2008 by Mark Richardson

The Environmental Board stopped short Wednesday night of recommending a zoning change to allow Stratus Properties to build a new apartment complex over the Barton Springs zone of the Edwards Aquifer. Instead, the board urged Council members to look at development trends across the entire area rather than just looking at the proposed project by itself when they consider it at today’s meeting.


Even though the Environmental Board does not usually consider zoning cases, the Council sought board input at the request of former Mayor Pro Tem Jackie Goodman, who is president of the Save Barton Creek Association.


The project is planned on a 33-acre tract at the intersection of Southwest Parkway and Barton Creek Boulevard. The site is not grandfathered under the SOS Ordinance, so the 214-unit complex would be built under current development standards. That means less than 20 percent impervious cover. Restrictive covenants proposed for the project include limiting trips to 2,000 per day, and no more than 214 units, even though regulations would allow more.


“We are in opposition to this development,” Goodman told the board. “It’s in an area that contributes to the aquifer, and we are not taking a look at it inside of any frame of reference.”


Goodman said the Council should look at how this proposal fits into plans by groups such as the Oak Hill Neighborhood Plan, Envision Central Texas and the Regional Water Quality Plan.  She recommended that such information accompany any recommendation that the board made to the Council.


Roy Whaley, vice chair of the Austin chapter of the Sierra Club, said he supported SBCA’s recommendations.


“There’s already a precedent set for building in the area – the AMD office complex,” he said. “And we all know how that turned out. We need to do a better overall job of studying how the dominoes will fall in this important and sensitive area.”


However, Steve Drenner, representing Stratus, said the developers were playing by all the rules – and then some – and did not feel they should be delayed or constrained.


“We are developing this project on the least sensitive potion of the tract, all within the SOS Ordinance regulations,” he said. This tract is not grandfathered. We are going with 214 units when we could have built 317 under the regulations. We think this is the most sensitive way to handle the site.”


Not used to dealing with zoning cases, Environmental Board members grilled city staff over what could be developed under the current DR (development reserve) zoning, as opposed what was possible under the proposed MF-1 (multi-family-apartment).


Board member Jon Beall asked Drenner if the developer was willing to use low impact building techniques.


“We are not sure that there is any agreement out there over just what ‘low-impact building’ means,” Drenner said. “We are comfortable with the proposed conditional overlays.”


Board Chair Dave Anderson said that, by itself, it’s a good project, but he said more was needed.


“This really shines a light on the need for a plan for development in this area,” he said.


Anderson then moved to send the project to City Council with the recommendation that it study the various reports that SBCA recommended to give them a frame of reference for how the project fits into the area. The motion was approved on a 7-0 vote.

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